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Pushing limits: My Experience with an Alpine Climbing Course

Bijgewerkt op: 24 apr.



I am very convinced that mountains bring a lot. Calmness, overview, challenges. And that is why I love the mountains. There is always more to explore and more to learn. For a curious, sportive person like me, the Swiss Alps are a great playgound. At the same time, it is also a challenge for me to not ask to much of myself.


In July 2023 I joined a high alpine climbing course to learn and to challenge myself. The days after the course I realized, I had pushed it all too much and I needed quite some time to recover from the accumulated stress. Reflecting on this trip, I have mixed emotions. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to do this, but I feel bad about the stresslevel and long recovery time that I experienced.


I love to share the travel report and how I experienced this trip. I had a hard time but I also learned a lot, had a great time with my buddies and I loved the hospitality in the Sustlihütte.


Day 1: Journey to the Hut, Climbing Practice, and Chanzelgrad Exploration

Together with my climbing buddies and our mountain guide, I drove in early morning to the starting point of our tour. We were with two cars and agreed to meet at Sustenbrüggli on the way to the Sustenpass. Our car got there first, so we treated ourselves to a coffee in the Sustenbrüggli restaurant until the others arrived. The guide, a rather stern figure with a military attitude, was less than pleased when he joined us a few minutes later. He insisted that coffee should be reserved for the hut after we had earned it, emphasizing that our weekend was to be taken seriously.  


We headed to the hut and had a short break before we moved to “Bei den Seelenen”. There were a few small rocks with bolts where we could practice the basics of alpine climbing. It was clear that the guide had great expectations and we felt short. He was disappointed with our performance, but instead of continuing with further practice, he took us on a short, yet still beautiful, tour over Chanzelgrad.


I was a team with my climbing buddy and felt save with him. The tour was not too difficult for us, so we enjoyed being in the mountains and the great views. At the same time, I also noticed that all the criticism made me insecure. I didn't understand why we were going on a tour if the basics weren't right. I want to know what I should do differently and better, before taking the next step.


Usually, the Guide takes the lead during such weekends, and participants follow. For me, it is important to be able to show my uncertainties and to have the opportunity to ask questions. I didn't have that feeling at all on this first day and that was not the best basis for the rest of the weekend.


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Day 2: Challenge Trotzigplanggstock and Rope Techniques

On the second day we challenged the Trotzigplanggstock. Our morning rendezvous for breakfast was at 6:00, and our planned departure was set for 6:45. Instead of a warm greeting, our mountain guide urged us to eat quickly, emphasizing the need to expedite our departure. The reasons for the urgency remained unclear, but it seemed he just liked to push it a bit. As a result, we managed to win almost 10 minutes and set off at 6:36.


Our journey to the start of the ridge, which marked the beginning of the climbing tour, took a little over an hour. For this part of the adventure, I teamed up with the guide. The day's tour proved more challenging than the previous one, with sections that pushed me out of my comfort zone. Despite leading most of the way, I had to give the lead to the guide during two stages. The exposure of the tour, coupled with the guide's continuous insistence on speed, left me feeling uncomfortable and restricted in my ability to practice essential climbing techniques. The experience felt more like a survival exercise than a controlled training session aimed at acquiring new skills.


The ascent to the summit took approximately 3.5 hours, followed by a series of abseiling stages. The guide said that we had spent too much time on the ridge to attempt another challenge. So he directed us back to the hut. Surprisingly, I welcomed this decision, as the lovely mountain hut provided a comfortable space to rest and reflect on the day. Looking back, I realized that another tour would have been too stressful for me.


After a short break at the hut, we dedicated one more hour to practicing rope techniques. Despite my exhaustion, the opportunity to learn in a safe environment brought a sense of satisfaction.


We closed the day with a vegetarian dinner and a glass of wine. In that moment, the weekend truly felt like a weekend again



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Day 3: South Ridge Undertalstock

On the third day, we kicked off our adventure even earlier. Breakfast was at 5 a.m., and within 30 minutes, we were geared up and ready to go. Despite the foggy conditions at the start, it didn't pose a problem for us that day, as we descended to the cars first, intending to drive to another nearby climbing area. A 10-minute drive through the fog brought us to the parking lot where the tour started. The southern ridge of Undertalstock was our destination. Samuel was my chosen climbing partner for the day, and I considered myself fortunate, given his experience, calm demeanor, and patience. His buddy-style gave me confidence to make it a fantastic closing day.

 

From the parking, we started with a one-hour hike to where the vertical climbing part began. The tour featured several pitches up to 5b, too technical for hiking boots, prompting us to switch to climbing shoes. The start in the snow was a bit chilly, but we anticipated warming up quickly on the rocks. Samuel and I were the last pair to start, with me taking the lead. I found it quite exciting to climb in the high Alpine terrain and the route was not as clearly defined as I was used to. While Samuel offered helpful guidance, the guide shouted from above, urging me to hurry and not overthink. As a first reaction, I got angry at him since I believed that being careful and safe were the most important things at that moment .Soon after, I decided it was better to tune out the distracting directives and focus on the climb. I navigated the challenge without too much trouble, and that gave me confidence. At that moment, I realized that conquering the course was a mental game, and prioritizing what was best for me was the key to a save and enjoyable finish.


The next section, my buddy took the lead effortlessly, allowing me to follow quickly. Two more vertical sections and a bit of ridge climbing brought us to the summit. The panoramic view, with a sea of fog below, was breathtaking. Although the guide was not a fan of breaks, we took a short one, soaking in the impressive scenery. Two long abseiling sections safely brought us back to the starting point. Packed up and satisfied, we hiked the final stretch back to the car, closing the memorable climbing course.


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We did it – course completed! It truly turned out to be an adventure, pushing my limits significantly. The experience taught me a great deal, and I realized once more, that mountain adventures aren't always just about fun; they can also bring stress.


I must acknowledge that the guide and I weren't the best match. Nevertheless, I successfully recalibrated my mindset and maintained faith, something that gives me confidence again. On the flip side, I also realized that I exceeded my boundaries without being aware of it in the moment. That's an aspect I'm not proud of. While I hold immense respect for mountain guides, I've learned the importance of not allowing myself to be pushed into situations where I no longer feel safe. I commit to approaching it differently in the future. For now, I'm just grateful to have returned home safely.  





 


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